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Why social media could swing the 2016 presidential election

Lauren Brousell | Aug. 28, 2015
Candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election use more social networks than politicians of the past, in hopes of tapping the millennial market. However, it's difficult to measure real ROI, and the social trail is fraught with political perils.

hillary clinton social media
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a photo with a supporter after speaking at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada August 18, 2015. Credit: REUTERS/David Becker

With the 2016 presidential race heating up, tech-savvy political candidates are stepping up, and executing on, their social media strategies. Since the last presidential election in 2012, President Barack Obama joined Twitter and hosted several chats on Reddit. It's fairly standard today for politicians and their campaigns to have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. However, for the upcoming election, there are more social networks for campaigns to consider for advertising and outreach, including Snapchat and Instagram. These sites are particularly important because voters, especially millennials, have shifted their social media preferences to video, live streaming and "disappearing post" apps, such as Snapchat.

Following the 2014 mid-term elections, 16 percent of registered voters followed candidates for office, political parties or elected officials on social media, up 10 percent since 2010, according to a report from Pew Research Center. Those numbers may seem low, but it's probable that since the report was conducted last year, interest in politicians on social media increased and more millennials and members of generation Z, who are avid users of many social media services, registered to vote.  

As campaigning for the 2016 election increases, political strategies targeting newer social media sites will surely play a significant role. However, it remains to be seen how exactly how these efforts will influence voters and affect who becomes the next president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton campaign embraces social

Democrat Hillary Clinton is one of the most prominent examples of a political candidate with a wide array of social media initiatives. Clinton has a strong presence on the most popular social media outlets, with more than one million "Likes" on Facebook and upwards of four million Twitter followers. The Clinton camp also launched accounts on more niche social networks, including Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, and even created a Spotify playlist from Clinton that voters can listen to. The mix of social networks the candidate embraces allows for more types of content messaging targeted at voters, including some well-designed, carefully manufactured posts, as well as spontaneous and on-the-fly content — or at least content that appears that way.

Whatever kind of post it is, it's probably carefully planned out with a strategy in mind, even if it seems to be off-the-cuff, says Bill Jasso, professor of practice, with a specialty in public relations, at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communication. "The Clinton campaign has been very targeted and focused on specific issues and specific topics. It has not been a run-of-the-mill, drive-by tweeting type of situation. It looks as though it's the execution of a strategy rather than just random [posts]."

 

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